Beavers return to Dorset for the first time in 400 years
Beavers return to Dorset for the first time in 400 years as male and female pair are transported from Scotland to see if their dams can boost wildlife and even prevent flooding
- Adult male and female introduced to an enclosure in the west of Dorset
- Pair will live in a large area of freshwater habitat not accessible to the public
- Rivers conservation officer Steve Oliver said welcoming beavers was ‘fantastic’
- Said they were ‘extra special’ because their abilities encourage other wildlife
Beavers have been reintroduced to Dorset for the first time in 400 years, a wildlife trust has revealed.
A pair of adult male and female beavers were introduced into an enclosure in the west of Dorset on Monday.
The pair will live in a large area of freshwater habitat not accessible to the public which can be continually monitored by wildlife experts.
Rivers conservation officer Steve Oliver said welcoming beavers back to the county was ‘fantastic’.
He said besides being ‘magnificent creatures in their own right’ they were ‘extra special because their engineering activities have the potential to bring even more life to a landscape and enable other species to flourish’.
An adult male and female were introduced into an enclosure in the west of Dorset on Monday, the county’s wildlife trust revealed
It is believed the mammal’s activities, such as the building of dams, could increase biodiversity, while filtering and cleaning water
The Eurasian beavers – which can grow to the size of a labrador dog – were relocated from Scotland under licence from NatureScot, the country’s nature agency.
The project is part of a scientific study by the University of Exeter and Wessex Water to monitor the impact Europe’s largest rodent has on water quality, flooding and other wildlife.
It is believed the mammal’s activities, such as the building of dams, could increase biodiversity, while filtering and cleaning water.
The dams could even reduce flooding by slowing the rate of water passing through rivers and streams during storms, the trust said.
The pair will live in a large area of freshwater habitat (pictured) not accessible to the public which can be continually monitored by wildlife experts
A Eurasian beaver swimming to its den with a branch in its mouth (file image)
Prof Richard Brazier, from the University of Exeter, said: ‘Beavers have been present on the planet for 40 million years or so, so they’re a highly adapted species and know how to manage water resources. We could really learn a lot from them.’
Beavers became extinct in the UK in the 16th century, largely because they were hunted for their fur, meat and the oil in their scent glands.
Beavers build dams and lodges using tree branches, vegetation, rocks and mud.
They chew trees down and use lodges as shelter while the dams impound water. Once their dens are built they use the oil in their scent glands to mark their territory.
Reintroduction trials are under way throughout England, Scotland and Wales.
In November beavers built their first dam in Exmoor in more than 400 years after river restoration by the National Trust.
The animals, which constructed it at the Holnicote Estate near Minehead, were the first to be released into the wild by the trust in its 125-year history.
Footage shows the beavers gnawing nearby trees and collecting vegetation.
Rangers described the rodents as ‘ecosystem engineers’, as nine months after they were introduced to slow the flow of water and improve river quality, they have created an ‘instant wetland’.
A small beaver dam made of wooden branches, sticks and twigs of small bushes, trunks of small young trees in a forest river with a fast current
The Eurasian beavers were relocated from Scotland under licence from NatureScot, the country’s nature agency
Their construction allows for deep pools of water which offer animals shelter from predators and a place to store food, and turns the surrounding land into a mosaic of nature-rich habitats.
Beaver dams, ponds and channels help human communities too – by preventing flooding through slowing, storing and filtering water as it flows downstream.
Ben Eardley, project manager at the National Trust, said: ‘It might look modest, but this beaver dam is incredibly special – it’s the first to appear on Exmoor for almost half a millennium and marks a step change in how we manage the landscape.
‘What’s amazing is that it’s only been here a few weeks but has created an instant wetland.
‘We’ve already spotted kingfishers at the site, and over time, as the beavers extend their network of dams and pools, we should see increased opportunities for other wildlife, including amphibians, insects, bats and birds.’
He added: ‘The recent rain we’ve had is a reminder of the significant role beavers can play in engineering the landscape.
Beaver dams, ponds and channels help human communities too – by preventing flooding through slowing, storing and filtering water as it flows downstream (file image shows a beaver dam)
The project is part of a scientific study by the University of Exeter and Wessex Water to monitor the impact Europe’s largest rodent has on water quality, flooding and other wildlife
‘As we face into the effects of climate change and more frequent extreme weather events, natural interventions like this need to be part of the solution.’
Nature group Rewilding Britain said a massive increase in restoring and connecting habitats is needed to help save wildlife forced to move because of climate change, and the reintroduction of beavers is key to helping with this.
A tree that has been felled by a beaver (file)
The beavers at Holnicote were relocated from wild populations on the River Tay catchment in Scotland, under licence from Scottish Natural Heritage.
They settled into a specially-built 2.7-acre enclosure on the estate in January last year and have been monitored by National Trust and Exeter University staff and volunteers since.
The project is part of the trust’s Riverlands programme which aims to revive UK rivers by boosting wildlife, water quality, community engagement and tackling the effects of climate change.
A separate five-year trial on the River Otter in Devon was also recently hailed a success by the Government which is now considering a national strategy for the reintroduction of beavers.
Meanwhile, plans are in place to reintroduce other wild animals including bears, wild boards, lynx, and wolves to Britain.
Rewilding is expected to significantly affect the amounts of greenhouse gas being absorbed by plant life. If done right it could play a positive role in lessening the impact of climate change.
It involves strategically reintroducing certain species of animal into areas where their populations have been diminished or eliminated entirely.
Wolves and Lynx could be reintroduced under plans to ‘re-wild’ large areas of England, backed by the head of Natural England. Pictured: A grey wolf pictured in a forest (file photo)
Lynx are the more likely candidate to be brought back, according to the head of natural England Tony Juniper, but the successful return of wolves in the Netherlands without problems has demonstrated that it could be possible to do the same in England.
The Lynx UK Trust intends to submit an application to Natural England to release six of the big cats from Sweden in Kielder Forest, Northumberland.
As Environment Secretary in 2018, Micheal Gove rejected a similar application by Natural England after the organisation advised against it.
But Juniper assumed the role of head of Natural England last year and is more supportive of lynx than his predecessor was.
Speaking to The Times, he said that he wanted to build on the reintroduction of beavers in Devon and white-tailed eagles on the Isle of Wight.
His comments came ahead of the launch of a new initiative to deliver on a government commitment to provide an additional 500,000 hectares of new wildlife habitat in England by 2042.
Lynx are the more likely candidate to be brought back, according to Tony Juniper – the head of Natural England. Lynx (pictured, filed photo) were wiped out from the UK by fur hunters and a loss of their habitat about 1,300 years ago
Pictured: Kielder Water & Forest Park, Newcastle, Northumberland. The park could see six lynx from Sweden introduced under the proposals
Lynx prey on deer and could help control their numbers, Juniper said, which is part of why Natural England was looking to explore their reintroduction.
In addition to Kielder Forest, Thetford Forest – that straddles the Norfolk-Suffolk border – has also been put forward as a potential site to release lynx.
In one example of the importance of re-wilding, researchers point to regions in North American and Europe where the absence of predators like wolves has led to unchecked deer population growth.
Deer feed on a variety of plant leaves that would otherwise play an important role in absorbing greenhouse gases from the environment.
Lynx UK Trust intends to submit an application to Natural England before Christmas to release six of the big cats from Sweden in Kielder Forest, Northumberland, while Thetford Forest – that straddles the Norfolk-Suffolk border – has also been put forward as a potential site
At the same time large herbivores like deer and cows can further add to the production of greenhouse gases like methane through their own bodily waste.
The key, according to scientists, is finding the right balance for each environment by selectively introducing a carefully chosen mix of species to restore balance to an environment.
‘Past extinctions mean only a small fraction of the species present in North and South America, Europe, and Australia can be reintroduced to rewilding projects,’ University of Sussex’s Owen Middleton said.
‘If all the species available were reintroduced in these places, predators are likely to exert more control on herbivores than in the past. This would likely result in more trees growing with climate change mitigation benefits.’
‘In Africa and Asia where extinction was less severe the mega-herbivores would likely be more dominant. In savannas this could stop trees growing, reducing climate mitigation potential but would be important for biodiversity. Regional analysis is needed to explore the details.’
‘But these are simple estimations of a complex system. Future research should focus on regional case studies which includes social and ecological feasibility of reintroducing species, as well as how it could assist with the climate and other emergencies.’
How Britain’s largest rodent made a comeback after being hunted to extinction 400 years ago
Beavers are native to Britain and thrived in a network of streams and rivers running through the country hundreds of years ago.
Over-hunting led to their demise at some point in the 16th Century, although it is not known exactly when they disappeared entirely.
The animals were hunted for their meat, fur and scent glands – which was used in perfume, food and medicine. The last written record of the mammals was a bounty paid for a beaver head in Yorkshire in 1789.
Reintroduction began on the continent in the early 20th Century and the UK has been quite behind – citing concerns about how the use of land has changed since the 1700s.
‘Over 90 percent of the farmers and landowners have signed a petition against having any beavers on the river,’ Gareth Daniels, a sheep and cattle farmer told National Geographic in 2014.
The animals were hunted for their meat, fur and scent glands – which was used in perfume, food and medicine. The last written record of the mammals was a bounty paid for a beaver head in Yorkshire in 1789
He worried beaver dams would make flooding along the Afon Rheidol in Wales worse.
Intense studies of the animals since 2014 showed they actually reduce the amount of flooding by pooling the water in various areas along the water course.
Without the dams the water would collect at the base of the river or stream and lead to flooding after extreme weather.
Reintroduction began on the continent in the early 20th Century and the UK has been quite behind – citing concerns about how the use of land has changed since the 1700s. Pictured, a tree knawed by a beaver
It was the success of The River Otter Beaver Trial in Devon that led to the reintroduction in various areas of Britain.
Here’s how beavers have been gradually brought back to the UK over 20 years:
2001: Two families of Norwegian beavers were released in Kent to help maintain wetlands that were hard to reach with machinery.
May 2009: The Scottish Beaver Trial released the first beavers to live wild in Scotland since the 16th century. Another 28 animals were released between 2017 and 2020.
March 2011: A pair of juvenile beavers were released in a three-hectare fenced enclosure in northern Devon.
2014: Beavers were discovered living wild in east Devon. Their origin was unknown and Defra wanted to bring them into captivity. Natural England granted Devon Wildlife Trust permission to begin a five-year monitoring project instead. The River Otter Beaver Trial began.
Beaver dam on a frozen pond along the Tunxis Trail on Pine Mountain in Barkhamsted, Connecticut, in winter
June 2015: The first baby beavers born as part of the trial were filmed.
2017: The Cornwall Wildlife Trust worked with farmers Chris and Janet Jones from Woodland Valley Farm. Eurasian beavers were released to help maintain their land.
2018: Beavers were recorded moving into new areas in Devon. Their presence reduced flooding downstream as wetlands held more of the water in the earth.
2020: A pair of beavers were released at Hatchmere Nature Reserve in Cheshire.
February 2021: A pair of beavers were released into an enclosure in the west of Dorset.
Upcoming releases: Beavers are expected to be reintroduced to Derbyshire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and Sussex.
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